Happy flipping Hallowe’en.
This post will mainly concern clothes: specifically, the many issues that I have with the process that leads to their acquisition, and the reasons behind my dissatisfaction with the system as it stands.
If there’s one thing I really want you to take from this – and I think you’ll find that I’ve worked hard to drive the point home – it’s that I generally don’t enjoy shopping. Not clothes, not white goods, not presents, not even the supermarket. (Especially not the supermarket. Many’s the Friday evening I’ve found myself standing at a self-scan till at Sainsbury’s, holding a single onion and shouting ‘VALIDATE ME, YOU BASTARD’).
Clothes shopping is the worst. I know it’s something that many women are supposed to enjoy (source: Grazia magazine, 2007), but I don’t. Call me unfeminine, but I find it hard to savour the prospect of spending money I don’t have on something I don’t really need and probably won’t even like in a year’s time, if it hasn’t fallen apart by then.
Then there’s the lack of control that come from not knowing what you’re looking for, or whether any given shop will stock it. Browsing is often futile: at best boring, and at worst a trigger for full-blown clinical depression. If, like me, you are adversely affected by laziness, poor self-esteem, and baked potatoes, it leaves you open to all kinds of mental anguish. Given the choice of activity, I’d prefer having a sit down and a good old stare at the wall to trying on clothes*.
Funny, then, that I seem to spend many of my Saturday afternoons in clothes shops. Like any other good young capitalist consumer, I can be perceived at any given time to be lacking a key piece: watertight boots, a new work dress, a winter coat, pants… These things ‘must’ be purchased if I am to stay warm, look nice, and enjoy the respect of my peers.
I’ve worked out that, to achieve these goals, my 5”5’ size 14-16 frame generally requires fitted dresses, well-cut trousers, sculpted tops, and tailored jackets in good-quality natural fibres. What it gets on the high street is badly-cut inadequate scraps, in material that feels like it might melt if you stand too close to a radiator.
My savings account and gin habit prohibit me from frequenting the higher-end shops. Anyway, I’ve got no desire to go around looking like an extra from Made In Chelsea, when all I want is something that fits well and won’t fall apart on its first outing. Plus, I happen to know that, once a year, Dorothy Perkins sells a dress that is perfect in every way: I just want them to send me a memo, so I know which weekend to block in my diary.
Quite a few friends have suggested that, as I’m of a classical figure and bent, I should try vintage clothing. You’re like Christina Hendricks off of Mad Men (they say). You’re like Marilyn Monroe! She was a size 16! Yes! I read it somewhere! Marilyn Monroe was a size 16!**
Yeah, well, I don’t like hunting for bargains in vintage shops. I know that lots of people do: I’m constantly meeting them at parties, with their stunning clothes and immaculate retro make-up. They dispense ironic cupcakes and cocktails. They radiate well-earned sartorial smugness.
The thing is, I feel the same way about hunting for bargains as you do about hunting baby piglets. It’s all riffling through racks of suspicious-smelling clothes for hours (literally, hours) until the law of averages kicks in and you make your once-in-a-lifetime find. Frankly, that’s time that I don’t have to spend. Those onions won’t scan themselves.
My unwillingness to more fully engage with the shopping experience means that I generally have one item of clothing that I really, really like and wear as often as possible, a couple of ‘I suppose that will do’ substitutes for laundry times, and a wardrobe full of clothes bought on the principle that they physically fitted around my body and limbs when I tried them on five minutes before closing time on the day before a special occasion.
So why participate at all? Why not just pack it all in, buy 15 mens T-shirts in a range of colours and a new pair of jeans every 2 years and to hell with the haters? As part of my extensive research for this post, I spoke to Caroline, 26, a music teacher from London. (I met Caroline in Chappells and we went for a pint.) Caroline initially shocked me by referring once or twice to ‘that feeling you get when you just have to spend some money’. I was feeling about my person for Saneline flyers before realising that, however much I ostensibly hate the tawdry greed of consumer culture, I totally share this feeling.
I LIKE having nice things. Like my lovely new clock. Looking at it makes me happy. Ah. Ah. So red. So lovely. So… time-keeping***.
Like Caroline, I experience and (though I hate to admit it) enjoy that warm feeling of new ownership, whether it’s related to a new clock, a good book or a coat that fits perfectly. But unlike Caroline, I don’t associate that fuzzy feeling with the process of acquisition: the jostling, the choosing, the decisions, the expenditure. Which is perhaps why my latest purchase cut out all but one of those hurdles.
I mentioned before that I maintain a rolling list of ‘Apparel I Need To Own Lest I Die Of Exposure Or Worse, Prompt Strangers To Think I Look Shit’. A recent addition to this list was an autumn jacket, to bridge the awkward gap between summer cardigan and winter coat. Shopping for any piece of clothing generally takes about seven weeks. This jacket was acquired in about ten minutes last Thurday. Here’s how it happened:
18.55 Arrive to meet Jo.
18.58 Receive text message from Jo, running ten minutes late.
18.59 Pop into Jigsaw to ‘have a look’.
19.09 Emerge from Jigsaw in state of heightened confusion, bearing a posh carrier bag containing a £189 jacket.
19.15 Express confusion to Jo re: the acquisition of said jacket, citing the music in the shop, the limited time available, the comfortingly authoritative manner of the shop assistant and the deceptive ease of debit payment as reasons for spending more on this single garment than on the last three winter coats combined.
19.16 Accept reassurance from Jo that jacket can always be returned and precious funds recovered at the weekend.
19.18 Order bottle of house red.
21.45 Arrive home, unpack jacket and try on.
21.46 Decide that the arrangement of three sets of buttons along the bosom causes the wearer to resemble a nursing dog.
21.48 Locate nail scissors.
At 21.50 I found myself suddenly very, very sober, sitting on my bedroom floor and holding a de-buttoned £189 jacket in my arms like the body of a child.
And I yearned for the days when clothes shopping involved my mum. No decisions, no expenditure, no drama.
*This can sometimes be the best use of a changing room.
** Marilyn Monroe was NOT a size 16. She was 5”5’. I am 5”5’. I am what a 5”5’ size 16 woman looks like, and it is not this.
*** Incidentally, I bought that clock in Peter Jones. I don’t think that going into Peter Jones even COUNTS as shopping. It’s not stressful. It’s rarely crowded. The people who work there are spontaneously nice to you, even if you’re very obviously not going to buy anything. It’s like a lovely holiday to a foreign country where everyone is polite and the temperature is always just right.)
Marilyn Monroe wasn’t always as svelte as she is in that photo – but you’re right, I think the size 16 urban myth is a lost-in-translation thing that we use to make ourselves better. I think, at her fattest, she was an *American* size 16, which is a UK 12. And not fat. At all. Ever.
“Those onions won’t scan themselves.” Very good.
I think an American size 16 is actually a UK size 20 (size 0 is a UK size 4, etc.)? I also thought maybe people could be referring to Marilyn in a drugged-up-and-bloated phase – but I gather that her drugs of choice were barbituarates, which don’t tend to make you *gain* weight.
I think we’re just deluded.
Pingback: Tweed city shorts « My Viennese Adventures